Creating a Mindful and Respectful Play Area

I’m not a parenting expert.  I have one child and am figuring out how to raise her without messing her up too badly.  My only prior experience is babysitting in high school (which I did a crap job of), working in an infant care facility (but I mainly just snuggled, fed, and changed them), and a decade as a public school teacher (with a few degrees that go along with that).  I considered what some of my best students had in common:   empathetic, creative, and responsible.  I’m certain that all of these children had very different upbringings, but I researched different parenting methods that could help me develop those traits in my daughter and discovered a few of my favorite parenting/ education styles: Montessori, Waldorf, and RIE.  If you’re interested in reading a brief overview of the styles, this is a great place to begin.

This all relates to this post because we decided to give our daughter a play space for Christmas.  Trying to make intentional parenting choices, I researched numerous play spaces and decided I wanted a play space that was both mindful and respectful of my daughter’s needs, development, interests, etc.  I’m going to warn that I got a little hyperlink happy in this post.  Since we’re still in the planning stages, I wanted to remember key information so I linked A LOT of ideas and products.

Before creating the play area, I wrote down a list of goals that I had for the space.

  1. Minimalistic: I want a toy shelf with space for 1-2 toys/ manipulatives on each shelf and perhaps a few spots for boxes to hold blocks or balls.  *We have more toys than will fit on the shelf, but I plan to alternate them to keep my daughter from getting overwhelmed by choice or clutter.  Additionally, I like this approach as it will help me to easily see which toys spark my daughter’s curiosity or interests more.

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2. Orderly: According to the Montessori philosophy, children have a “sensitive period” when they are attracted to and able to learn about something.  From birth until about age 5 is a child’s sensitive period for order, but it peaks in early toddlerhood.  Young children love routine and repetition, and I’d like my play space to support this sensitive period by giving a specific, predictable spot for everything.

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Orderly Toy Storage

3.  Thoughtful Toy and Activity Selection:  I want to be sure to include toys that develop fine motor AND gross motor skills, art and music interests, books, and open-ended items for creative play. *I only recently started researching active vs passive toys, and the argument for passive toys is so interesting to me.  I had never even considered the concept before!

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Open-Ended Toys

4. Safe, Open Space:  In the RIE philosophy, children require a “YES” space where they are free to play without constantly being interrupted (often for safety concerns).  It is best to keep the space relatively small (one child-proofed room or a section of one room) to help the child maintain focus and foster independent play.  That being said, we also believe in allowing our daughter to discover her own boundaries and abilities.  We own a Pikler Triangle that will be brought into the “YES space” when we are able to observe our daughter playing (since it can be “dangerous”).  It is just one way to give our daughter an opportunity to learn how her body can move and climb all on her own!

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Lily & River Pikler Triangle with Slide Attachment

5. Include Nature: Nature is a large part of the Waldorf philosophy, as it reveals our kinship with all living things and teaches them about the rhythm of life.  We chose a play space with large, low windows so our daughter has the freedom to observe the outdoors and natural changes of the world.  Her play space is also accessible for our two cats so she is able to interact and observe them.  We would like to include a few small edible herb plants that she can help care for, as well, but that won’t be harmful to the cats that share the space.

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6. Respectful of Parents’ and Child’s Needs: According to the Montessori philosophy, the job of a child is to play.  The job of the parent is… well, we have to do a million things everyday.  I like to observe my daughter as she plays, but I also need to prep our meals, pay bills online, clean the house, write blog posts (okay, that’s just for fun), etc.  For this reason, we decided to put the play space (and all toy storage) in our living room, where we have already child-proofed everything, we can watch our daughter carefully, relax as a family, and close it off to the rest of the house easily.

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Our Current Living Room Set-Up

I’m so excited to start getting everything prepared for this project!  We’re still deciding if we want to have it ready for Esme on the evening of Christmas Eve so she wakes up to the new space of if we’ll set it up earlier and do a small stocking for her instead.  I’ll update though!

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Our Family’s Favorite Breakfast “Cake”

Breakfast “cake” has become a weekly morning staple in our household.  We love that it’s healthy, versatile, easy for travel, and quick to make!  This recipe is based on Jamie Eason’s pumpkin protein bar recipe, which is also a favorite of ours, but we changed it up a bit to fit the needs of our growing daughter.  My favorite part of all is that I can throw all of the ingredients into a high powered mixer (ours is a Vitamix), and there’s no need to dirty up multiple bowls.

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Ingredients

2.5 cups raw oats

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp baking powder

1 1/2 tsp ground ginger

2 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp salt

2 whole eggs

2 tsp vanilla extract

1 15 oz can raw pumpkin

1/2 cup liquid: water/ whole milk unsweetened almond milk/ oat milk/ etc.

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Optional additions:

3-4 whole carrots

1/2 large zucchini

1/2 apple

handful of walnuts (be aware of new allergen recommendations)

small handful of spinach or a few tsps of spinach powder 

2-3 Tbsp of butter/ coconut oil/ nut butter
2 scoops of protein powder (add only 2 cups of oats in this case and a bit more liquid)
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Add the first 6 ingredients into your blender and blend until the oats turn into a flour consistency.
  3. Add the other ingredients and pulse until everything is thoroughly mixed together.
  4. Spread batter into a cake pan and bake for 30 minutes.  *You can also make muffins or baked donuts with this batter, but cook time will vary.

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I make a ton of different variations on this recipe, which is why there are so many different “options.”  So far, my daughter’s favorite has pumpkin, carrots, zucchini, and a bit of spinach powder in it.  She’s still at a young enough age where she doesn’t require sweetener in her food.  Pumpkin is plenty sweet for her taste buds!  If you’re making this for older kids, they might prefer some honey or maple syrup added to sweeten it up a bit.  This recipe is perfect for baby led weaning (BLW), but I would personally cut the bars into long, thin, finger-like pieces and bake them a little longer so they’re less moist.  Hope other families enjoy them as much as we do!

Cat Litter Solution

Can we talk about cat litter?  Anyone that has a cat knows it’s one of the most annoying aspects of cat ownership (along with the 3 AM “song of my people” cry that most cats enjoy).  We have had our two cats Romulus and Remus for over 9 years now.  We adopted them when we lived in Japan, and they have been with us through every move and transition.  Our daughter LOVES them (despite her allergies), and unfortunately, she also LOVES their food bowls, water bowls, and litter pans.  We used to keep the litter in a little nook in our hallway, but now that we have a toddler that thinks litter boxes are the ultimate sandboxes (cue gagging noise), we needed to come up with a solution that kept the litter contained and hidden.

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Window Nook for Litter (that refrigerator on the right is temporary)

The ONE spot for their litter is in the kitchen, which is normally the LAST place on Earth I’d put litter.  Our kitchen is HUGE though and has a step that separates the food prep/ cooking area (farrrr on the other side) and the eating area (which we don’t use for eating because we love our dining room).  This little window nook is the perfect width & depth for the litter boxes, AND the room has a door on it so it can be closed off while our daughter is awake (no worries, the cats are super well-trained and meow outside the kitchen door to be let in).  I’m rather meticulous when it comes to keeping a clean home though, and open top litter pans in the kitchen are not ideal.  I had to find a way to contain the sights and smells of the litter boxes.  Enter: Amazon.

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Faux Leather Storage Bench ($49.99)

We are pretty committed to the litter system that we use, which keeps litter off of the ground and minimizes smells SO well.  Unfortunately, the pans are a bit larger than standard cat boxes; therefore, many IKEA hacks for hiding litter and special order products wouldn’t work for our boxes.  I considered having a custom windowseat built with a small opening for the cats to enter and exit their boxes.  Wood is pretty expensive in Italy though.  I found an inexpensive storage bench on Amazon that was the EXACT length of the window nook and almost the exact width needed for the litter boxes (actually about 1/4 inch too small, but the litter pans are plastic and can bend that amount).  I also purchased this cat door, although in hind sight I could have just cut a hole and finished it with decorative duct tape.

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To complete this hack, I needed: a pencil, a utility knife, a drill (since my saws are all in storage in America), and duct tape.  First, I placed the cut-out stencil in the desired location (high enough so the cats can enter and exit their boxes easily) and traced around it.  Then, I used a utility knife to slice the fabric.  If I had a saw, I would recommend that to cut out the circle, but I had to make do with what I had… so I used my drill to drill SEVERAL tiny holes extremely close together along the perimeter until I could use my hand to remove the cut-out.  Then, I “finished” the edges by taping duct tape around the rough portions and finally added the cat door.

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Obviously, my daughter was EXTREMELY interested in the bench (since it was new and had a fun plastic cat head on it) so I didn’t put the litter in it for a while.  I just put it in its spot and let her explore it.  She soon decided it was boring, which was the perfect opportunity to add the litter pans and introduce the cats to it.

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Some cats have difficulty with new litter box situations so I decided to leave the lid off of the bench for a couple of days until the cats were used to the set-up.  Then, I put the lid back on, and they were completely fine with using it.  So much cheaper than a custom window seat, but it works perfectly to hide their litter!

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The best part is that our daughter doesn’t seem the slightest interested in the bench so I’m planning on moving it out of the kitchen and into the living room, where GUESS WHAT!!!  There is another window nook that is EXACTLY this size.  Fate??

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I’m considering making another one for the cats’ food and water since our daughter IS still very much interested in those.  I can also picture this as a great kitty hideaway for cats that crave some privacy, just add a cozy blanket or pillow inside!  The possibilities are endless.

Bedroom Update: Japanese Obi Pillow and Magic Lights

I love a dramatic master bedroom, but ours has become a bit neglected in our new home.  It’s just a collection of furniture from our old home thrown together half-heartedly: a cream rug, white bedding, black (thrifted and hand-me-down) furniture, and our gray DIY upholstered headboard.  We sold all of our lamps to the people that bought our old home, so we also were lacking lighting in the master bedroom.  I decided to do two quick, little updates during Esme’s nap time the other day  and was able to add a bit more personality to the space (although it still has a long way to go).

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First, I wanted throw pillows with a more dramatic color scheme.  I looked through my craft stash for fabric to sew some new pillow covers and realized I had a Japanese obi (the sash used for traditional Japanese attire) that I had bought at a thrift store when we lived in Japan.  You can find them on eBay and Etsy too.  I know my husband gets annoyed with the 500 throw pillows that I love on our bed so I decided to do something much simpler this time: a single long lumbar pillow.  These are becoming more and more popular, but they often have a hefty price tag to match their trendiness (like the $195 pillow shown below from The Citizenry).

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I had two extra bed pillows that we bought on sale one year for $6 each (and never used because it turns out that $6 pillows are ridiculously uncomfortable), so I decided to repurpose the stuffing from them for my new lumbar pillow.  I believe I spent around 600 yen (~$5-6) on the obi so the total cost for me was under $20.

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To make the pillow, I cut the obi to the length that I wanted (it was already two sided), fill it with stuffing, and whip stitched the edge closed.  Easy peasy.  The same could easily be done with a table runner.  This one or this one from Target would look incredible as a long lumbar pillow.

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My favorite thing about the pillow is that the fabric is double-sided.  If I decide that the bold orange, black, white, and gold design is too much in our bedroom, I can flip it over for a more subtle all black lumbar pillow.  Do you see the subtle gold stripe on one side?  I COULD DIE.  Love it!  I also love that this particular fabric reminds us of the wonderful time we spent living in Japan as newlyweds.

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We also needed lighting in the bedroom, and lamps are surprisingly expensive in Italy.  Even IKEA sells their lamps at a higher price here than in the U.S.  If I invested in expensive lamps here, I unfortunately couldn’t use them when we return to the U.S. since the voltage is different.   I decided to DIY some bedside lighting that could be used when we return to the States, thanks to the power supply being batteries.  Brooke Christen from Nesting with Grace actually came up with this game changing idea so I won’t go too into the “how” of it.  Head over to her site if you want great tips and tricks to do it yourself.  Basically though, it’s a way to add “electricity” to a sconce without spending the money to hardwire it.

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Magic Light Supplies

I found these lights on Amazon, although I just realized that the price has increased quite a bit since I purchased them.  The glass portion (shown on Amazon) won’t fit on the light with this trick, which was just fine for me since two of the glass pieces arrived broken.  For the magic light trick to work on this particular light, I removed the bulb holder (shown below).  It just created a flatter surface and allowed my Quick Light disk to remain hidden in the sconce.

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In her post, Brooke shares three different ways to attach the Quick Lite to the interior of the sconce, and I chose industrial strength velcro.  I also used the velcro to help attach the light to the wall since it’s a concrete wall with a bit of plaster on top of it.

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I am LOVING the outcome.  These lights instantly improved the look of our bedroom.

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My husband came home and instantly commented on them.  That’s a big deal since he’s so used to coming home to multiple changes that he rarely remarks on them anymore.  He said he felt like our bedroom was more “luxe” now.  It still needs a lot of work: artwork, bedside decor, etc., but it is a huge improvement.

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I think my favorite thing of all is that these lights can be controlled with a remote.  This remote is FANCY.  You can dim the lights or put them on a timer.  It was such an easy nap time makeover that I’m considering adding these “magic lights” to other rooms in the house.  It was a super successful nap time over here!

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Nursery Plans: Glam Safari

Can I still even call this room a nursery now that Esme is technically a toddler?  Before moving to Italy, we sold Esme’s mini crib and purchased a full size convertible crib off of Craigslist.  BEST CHOICE EVER.  Esme has grown so fast, and we saved ourselves a ton of money buying her furniture in America before arriving.  Her room is long and narrow with a small area in the back that is a bit quirky.  It’s perfect for a nursery, and our current furniture couldn’t have fit better in the space.

This is the quirky area in the back.  Ignore the artwork.  There’s a huge hole in the wall  where the water access point is, and I covered it with these frames.  Eventually, I’m going to do some DIY art for them.  There’s a glass enclosed storage closet that we are currently using for our personal storage.  Eventually we might use it for toys.  Unfortunately, we couldn’t use it as a clothing closet for Esme because there is no space for hanging clothing (tiled walls plus built-in wooden shelves).  We purchased a wardrobe from IKEA that perfectly fits in this odd little nook next to the window (and across from the storage closet).  I have big plans for DIY handles for it, but it’s a better solution for our little one since the clothes are hung low in it and are accessible for her.  She loves picking out her own clothing!

The rug in this room is one of my favorite eBay finds.  It has almost every color in it.  You can see all of the gorgeous colors in it in this throwback image.  It used to be in our dining room in our home in DC.  A lot of the accents in her room are the pale blue color in the rug, but green is one of my favorite colors so I plan on accenting it too.

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I’d like to make an accent wall behind the crib that highlights the green color and brings in some natural elements.  I purchased this wall mural from Amazon that I cannot wait to install in her room.  Here is my grand plan.

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I have no idea what style it is: lots of rattan, animals, and glam elements.  Maybe, glam safari?  I’m guessing that’s not a legit thing, but now it is!  I wanted some elements that were playful and others that would grow with her.  For example, I already added this fun green mirror.

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It’s from IKEA and has a tiny built-in shelf in it.  I put her toothbrush, comb, and hair brush in it, and she uses it everyday to learn about self-care.  I’m trying to include as many aspects as possible in her room that allow her to learn independence.  For example, I keep all of her pajamas in her bottom drawer, and after her evening bath I ask her to help me open the drawer and get her PJs.  It’s a small thing that allows her to participate in her own care.  She absolutely LOVES it.  I’d love to hear any other ideas you have to help me incorporate more ways to encourage her independence and ownership in her room!  My only setback is that the walls are plaster so anchoring furniture well to the wall is challenging and requires trial and error.  You don’t want to see the number of holes behind the dresser and closet!

Moving Day and Home Tour

After 3 months in a hotel with a mobile baby and 2 cats, we finally have a move in date!  In 4 short days, we will be moving into our new place and reuniting with all of our belongings.  Esme will finally get to sleep in her crib, and we will finally get to sleep on our beloved mattress.  I am so excited.  The house hunting in Naples was more stressful and required much more time than we anticipated.  We chose a home in the area of downtown Naples that we wanted to live, although it’s not as full of character as many others that we saw.  It was tough to balance pros and cons.

We were shown 3 story mansions, penthouse lofts with ocean views and rooftop terraces, historic apartments with two story bedrooms, and so much more.  We ended up with one that was quite boring in comparison, and I’m honestly struggling with how to make it feel like a beautiful, organized home.  However, what it lacked in beauty, it made up for in convenience.  This home includes 2 parking spots, including one INSIDE the building, an elevator (amazing how many places required me to climb several stories with a baby and stroller), and is a couple blocks from several gyms, grocery stores, and shops.  Here’s a little tour of it empty:

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Do you see the shelf above the door?  The entire apartment is midcentury architecture and has ledges below the ceiling.  I plan on putting books on the entry ledge to cover the wires.  I’m also considering painting the back of the doors, which are about 5 inches of thick metal.

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This is the end of the entry hallway that leads to the open dining/ family room.  The wood paneling is original to the apartment and matches the doors and baseboards throughout. I can picture this home super hip with the right Midcentury furniture; however, my furniture and design preference leans more traditional so it will be a challenge to meld my furnishings with the rest of the home.

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This is the living room/ dining room area.  It will also be the play space for Esme.  Do you see the ledge that goes around the room right under the ceiling level?  It drives me NUTS.  The ceilings are SO HIGH, but the ledge makes the ceilings feel much lower in person.  It also forces the curtains to be hung directly over the windows, which in turn makes the windows feel much smaller.  The left window is a door out to a balcony that expands the entire length of the apartment.  I’m excited to plant some flowers out there!

There are TWO full bathrooms in the apartment, which I’m extremely excited about!  We even have a bathtub!!! I’ve noticed a trend in America of people removing their bathtubs in favor of showers, and that trend has hit Italy as well.  I’ll never understand it, but finding a home with a large bathtub was difficult!  The guest bath (left) is fully tiled in lilac tiles, which I have mentioned here, and the master bathroom floor to ceiling pale blue.  Neither would have been my choice, but I’m excited for find some solutions to make them feel more “me.”

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Technically, it’s a four bedroom apartment with this being one “bedroom.”  The bright room to the back end of it is the laundry room.  We might keep the wardrobes in here and use it for storage, or we are considering turning it into a play space and overflow area for guests.  The other bedrooms are also small so I can’t decide which one I want to use as Esme’s nursery.

Both of these rooms use space really oddly.  Why did they build walls in front of windows?  Honestly, I saw this same issue is several homes we toured, and it never fails to perplex me.  The middle picture shows the slightly large bedroom that also has access to the attic for storage.  Additionally, it has a door to a small tiled “closet” (3rd picture) on the right (you can see the door to it in the middle picture if you squint).  This is the only room in the home with a closet.  Traditionally, Italian homes don’t have closets so this home comes with 6 armoires (none of which are my style so I’ll need to be creative with them too).

The master bedroom is tough to photograph since it’s quite small too, but it has a doorway out to the balcony.  The armoires are in the entry of the room, and I’m not sure how I’m going to make them work with my decor.  I absolutely LOVE wood (real wood), but I despise laminate made to look like wood.  Despise is a strong word, yet it’s so accurate.  I would have preferred just plain white laminate to the faux wood, but “you get what you get.”

*I didn’t share the kitchen since the landlord is installing a new kitchen about a month after we move in.  It will be a bit of a surprise for me since I was originally told it would be a white kitchen, but it appears to be faux wood from more recent pictures shared by the landlord.  Either way, after living in a hotel I’m just thrilled to have a kitchen to prepare proper meals for my family.

I’d love any insight or ideas you can share to help me make this place feel like home to us!  I’m still torn on our decision to choose location over beauty, although I’m sure once we move in I will appreciate it much more.  It’s just so tough to find everything you want in a market with few rentals.  I’m so looking forward to moving day though!

Panthella Table Lamp Lookalikes

I’ve been searching for table lamps for our new apartment.  When we sold our DC home, the buyers purchased all of our lamps in the house… and there were TONS because I am obsessed with lamps.  Had we been staying in America, I wouldn’t have sold them.  However, I didn’t want to buy a converter for every outlet here in Italy so I was fine with purchasing inexpensive ones here.  Now, I’m on the search for ones that are stylish and affordable.

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I’ve always loved the look of Verner Panton’s Panthella lamps.  These lamps were designed in 1971 with the aim to create a lamp in which the base as well as the shade would act as a reflector.  The light source is hidden under a hemispheric shade with a white trumpet-like base.

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Panthella Lamp

Unfortunately, at $774 per lamp it is WELLLLLL outside of my current budget.  Luckily, I’ve recently found a few similar lamps that feel similarly modern without the price tag.  First, IKEA has a version called the NYMÅNE, which only costs $49.99.  It lacks the same ethereal glow of the original version, but it’s lines are still modern.

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Target also has a similar lamp in brass that is only $54.99.  This won’t work for me here in Italy, but it’s still beautiful.  Actually, I’ve seen an almost identical one in one of the “dollar stores” here in Naples.  It was 22 Euro and a bit smaller than this one.

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I definitely prefer the look of the original hemisphere-like lamp, but I love seeing ones in my price range that I can use in our new home.

Embracing a colorful bathroom with a new rug

After 2 months of house hunting, waiting, and living in a hotel, we’re FINALLY preparing to move into our new apartment in Italy!  I don’t love moving, but I do love making each new place feel like home.  After living in our tiny DC apartment, I’m rejoicing because this apartment has two full bathrooms, and THAT. IS. A. DREAM.  We even have a BATHTUB in this new apartment, and I am squealing with joy!  I am a bubble bath person and had to use a fold up bathtub in our DC condo’s shower stall every time I wanted to soak.  I wish I was kidding.  A very pregnant me used to lug out this folding contraption, fill it up, squeeze my large body into it, and then have to hoist myself out and tilt it to drain it.  It was an ordeal.  My point being, a bathtub is a LUXURY, and I intend to spend a large portion of my free time soaking in that luxury!

The downside is these bathrooms are not my jam, decor-wise.  Both bathroom feature monochromatic floor to ceiling tile: one blue and one lilac.  Have you seen those vintage bathrooms that have pink tile, pink sinks, pink toilets, etc?  I kind of like those vintage bathrooms, if I’m being honest, but these bathrooms were recently remodeled and lack that vintage charm.

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The bathtub is in the lilac bathroom, and if I were a lilac person it would be heavenly.  Unfortunately, I am not a purple person, any shade of purple.  I wish I was, I’ve tried to be, but it’s not my jam.  Since I’m renting and can’t remodel the bathrooms (plus I want that money for traveling… I’m in Italy after all!), I decided to embrace the room and add a rug that pulls in a few accent colors to make the lilac feel less dominating.  My shower curtain is plain white so it won’t add any additional colors.  Unfortunately, I currently only have one picture of this room that is actually a screenshot from a video I quickly took of the property to remember it.

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In person, the lilac tile feels very overwhelming.  I promise.  It’s not just in my head.  Anyways, these are the rugs I’ve gathered so far.

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These are all low pile rugs that should be easy to spot clean and hang dry.  I also already own a small rug that might work in this space.  I bought this World Market outdoor rug last year.  It’s made of plastic so it will be fine getting wet in a bathroom, but I worry it won’t add much warmth and character to the room.  Additionally, it doesn’t really add any pop of color.

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I’d love your opinions and input on this.  Any favorites or recommendations?  Any tips on how to make the lilac feel less dominating?

5 Best Baby Products for a Traveling Minimalist

As an interior decor blogger, I don’t normally discuss baby products despite the topic being directly related to our home.  As someone that gets energy from the feeling of order in her surroundings, I absolutely did not want my home to feel like the inside of a Babies R’ Us after having children.  I feel like I read hundreds of “best baby products” blog posts when I was pregnant, but it was hard for me to find one directed at minimalists.  The first 8 months of my daughter’s life we lived in a smallish condo in downtown Washington D.C., and I didn’t want to clutter it with a ton of baby products.  We also knew that we wanted to travel so we wanted products that could be used for a variety of situations.  After 10 months in the “parenting trenches”, these are the baby products that I absolutely love and would buy again.

  1. Baby Stroller: Baby Jogger City Mini Stroller ($279.99, but we bought ours on Zulilly for $150)

I’ve heard mixed reviews on this stroller, but we absolutely love it.  Our home in D.C. required us to walk up or down a flight of stairs every time we wanted to go out with the stroller, so a lightweight, easy-to-close stroller was a necessity.  The one-handed close has been incredibly useful for us in both the city (going up and down those stairs) and at the airport when gate-checking the stroller with a squirmy infant in our arms.  It only weights 18 pounds so it wasn’t too difficult for me to close up and carry a few weeks after my c-section.  Additionally, I appreciated that the back folds down almost completely flat, making it safe for newborns.  We purchased the Graco carseat adapters so that we could click our infant seat onto the top (fabulous for street parking and zipping through the airport).  We also bought the tray attachment since we use the stroller as a makeshift high chair when we are out traveling or at a restaurant without high chairs.  My main gripe about this stroller is that the basket is smaller than I’d prefer.  Living in a city with a baby means that the stroller basket is also the shopping basket so I wish that Baby Jogger could have found a way to put a much larger basket under the stroller.  Despite this flaw, I love that its heavy duty wheels hold up beautifully to the cobblestone streets of Italy, and I can steer it easily with one hand if I happen to be holding a baby and pushing around groceries that are heaped up INSIDE my stroller.

2. Baby Car Seat: Graco SnugRide Click Connect 35 Car Seat ($142.87, but we purchased ours on sale for $120)

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A lot of people have very strong opinions about car seats, and I completely understand why: car accidents are incredibly common, and these contraptions save lives.  That being said, I knew that my daughter would not use a “bucket seat” for a long time so I didn’t want to splurge on an expensive one.  I also knew that all car seats sold in the US have to pass the same safety tests.  After reading numerous car seat reviews, we decided that it was the right seat for us based on its weight.  At only 7.5 pounds, this car seat is one of the lightest on the market.  When you have to park several blocks away from your home in the city or carry this through a crowded airplane (It IS safe for use on airplanes.), we appreciated that it was much lighter than other models.  Being inexpensive and lightweight DOES have its drawbacks though, this car seat does feel less “plush” than other models and rethreading the harness straps is a bit less convenient than other models.  We found installation to be a breeze though, and I love how simple it is to install without the base for taxi rides while traveling.

3.  “Diaper Bag”: Skip Hop Pronto Signature Portable Changing Mat ($29.99)

As a hoarding wannabe minimalist, I knew I was not to be trusted with a large diaper bag.  I would stuff it full of alllllll the things and never be able to find anything I actually need.  When I saw my friend carrying around this cute, little clutch for her infant, I knew it was exactly what I needed.  I have used this thing EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.  When we travel, this is the only item I carry on the plane for my daughter (plus a spare onesie in my purse).  I can also clip it onto my stroller and use it as my purse, as well.  I stick hand sanitizer, my keys, money, and my ID in the outer zipper.  Inside, it has a section for wipes, another zipper section for diapers (I can fit 6 in there!) and diaper cream, and a foldout, wipeable changing pad with a built-in pillow.  As a germaphobe I love that this thing fits perfects in the airplane bathroom for changing, and I even use it around our home as the changing table.  It’s WAY easier to wipe off than our fabric-covered changing pad.

4. Travel Crib: Graco Pack N Play Nimble Nook ($62.99)

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I’m obsessed with this travel crib!  It’s half the size of standard pack n plays so it takes up much less space.  We kept it in our bedroom when our daughter was a newborn, and she slept in the bassinet portion of it.  In the bassinet mode, it also has a vibration feature to soothe young babies although we didn’t use it.  It also has wheels and is narrow enough to be rolled through doorways so we’d roll it around the house to keep an eye on her.  When our daughter was 5 weeks old, we took our first mini-vacation with her, and this crib was perfect for the hotel room.  When we moved to Italy, we flew with this (it’s lighter and smaller folded than a standard pack n play), and it’s been great in our hotel.  We even fill it with plastic balls to create a ball pit for our daughter!  I’ll add that the sleeping pad for this model is difficult to clean, but luckily mini crib sheets will fit this perfectly.  We bought a waterproof, quilted mini crib sheet that solves that issue easily.

5. High Chair: Ingenuity Baby Base 2-in-1 Seat, $44.99

I’m embarrassed to admit that we splurged a bit on a much more expensive high chair.  When we moved to Italy, someone gave me this seat to use at the hotel, and it is SO much better!  I wish I’d had this seat from the very beginning.  Skip the Bumbo and the Sit-Me-Up.  This seat supports under the baby’s entire thigh to help early sitters just practice sitting.  It straps onto your existing chairs, and the blue infant insert can be removed to turn it into a booster for older kids.  The tray can even be stored inside the seat when not in use!  Cleaning this seat is ridiculously easy.  We either wipe it off with a wet rag or pull out the infant insert and wash it off in the sink.

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DIY Kitchen Island Ideas

We have been house hunting (here, here, and here) for a while in Southern Italy, and we finally found a home (really an apartment).  We’re probably crazy for the place that we chose since our budget (given to us by my husband’s company) allowed us to get a large home on the beach or a penthouse with a huge rooftop and water view.  Instead, we went way under budget and chose a place that was deep in the city and had no view at all.  It also needs some sprucing up!  However, living in DC taught us that location was EVERYTHING when it came to daily life.  I can walk to five grocery stores, numerous restaurants and shops, two gyms, a park, and three “mommy and me” classes from this apartment!  Anyways, on to important things… like kitchens.

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The kitchen in our new place is rough to say the least.  It’s a long, narrow space with cabinets along one wall, no counter space for prep, and a kitchen table in the middle of the room.  Currently, the refrigerator is stuck like a sore thumb beside some cabinets randomly.  The kitchen is also not all on one level, since there is a weird step up to the wall of cabinets.

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Since we tend to eat dinner in our dining room, we decided to forgo the kitchen table and try to turn the space into an “American style” kitchen.   We’d like to add some cabinets to the far wall of the kitchen and move the refrigerator to that space.  We’re not interested in spending a lot of money since this is a rental, so we’ll most likely be repurposing these cabinets from our home in DC.  We’d also like to build a DIY kitchen island (with STORAGE!) for the center of the room with pieces that can be taken apart and reused in future homes.  We’re going to push it up against the step so that the edge of it can be used for additional prep space when working in the kitchen.  We’d also like to add 2-3 bar stools so people can sit at the island and help cook or hang out.

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In America, I had access to some crazy good deals in thrift stores and Craigslist.  Unfortunately, prices on used items are pretty high here in Italy so I’m relying on IKEA for less expensive materials for my DIY Kitchen Island. One of the major obstacles is that I need a very specific island height, and Ikea furniture is built to very standard sizes.  Standard kitchen cabinets are 36″ tall, although many professionals recommend a height of 42″ for islands that are used primarily for seating.  Our island will be placed just beside the step that goes up to the oven and sink, so a 36″ height island would be even shorter when used as a work surface from the platform.  Therefore, I’m trying to find IKEA pieces that are closer to 42″ tall. Here are the pieces that I’m debating currently.

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I was going to put the pieces either side by side and add a large countertop with an overhang so that people could sit on the opposite side of the cabinets OR put them back to back (making a two sided island) with an overhang on the side so that the seating would be next to the cabinets.  Allow me to share my incredibly professional and technical “photoshopping” of these two ideas with you.

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As you see, I’ll also need legs for both ideas to hold up the countertop edges.  I’m currently leaning towards the Billy bookcase solution since it is the only solution that is close to my preferred height, and I don’t have saws at my disposal to built a platform to lift the other cabinets up to the required height.  Another obstacle is finding a countertop on a budget.  Because I’m online shopping currently, I’m sticking to IKEA as a resource, but I might actually branch out to Leroy Merlin, our Italian version of Home Depot or Lowe’s.

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SÄLJAN countertop (25 5/8″ wide & 74″/98″ long)

If this weren’t a rental, I’d splurge on a proper and custom countertop (as well as a proper island).  However, I’m all about the cheapest find possible for this place.  I considered using plywood to create my own countertop, but I don’t have my saws here in Italy with me so I need to use what is already available.  Luckily, IKEA has super inexpensive countertops, like the Säljan, pictured above.  It comes in just white, faux white marble, faux black marble and more.  I discovered that putting two Billy bookcases side by side and topped with the Säljan countertop would be the right length and the right amount of overhang for seats.  I’m definitely leaning in that direction!  I’d love to hear other ideas!!